Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State (IS) are training people to fly in three captured fighter jets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. If true, it would be the first recorded time that the group has taken to the air.
IS have been flying the planes over the captured Syrian al-Jarrah military airport, east of Aleppo, observatory founder Rami Abdulrahman said.
“They have trainers, Iraqi officers who were pilots before for Saddam Hussein,” Abdulrahman said. “People saw the flights, they went up many times from the airport and they are flying in the skies outside the airport and coming back.”
Witnesses said that the jets appeared to be MiG 21 or MiG 23 models that they had captured from the Syrian military.
However, the U.S. said that it was unaware that Islamic State possessed any jets in Syria.
“We’re not aware of IS conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said. “We continue to keep a close eye on IS activity in Syria and Iraq and will continue to conduct strikes against their equipment, facilities, fighters and centres of gravity, wherever they may be.”
Pro-Islamic State Twitter accounts had earlier posted pictures of captured jets in other areas of Syria but diplomats and analysts said that they were unusable.
The Islamic State group controls up to a third of Syria’s territory along with large swathes of Iraq. The countryside east of Aleppo is one of their main bases.